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Food pantry forced to hire security after increases in need and tensions cause 'chaos'

Posted at 4:09 PM, Aug 16, 2023

AURORA, Colo. — As emergency migrant shelters in Denver close, neighboring cities are seeing an increase in need as families move into those communities. One nonprofit in Aurora attributes a "chaotic upsurge" to the movement and has now hired their own security guard to make sure food pantry giveaways run smoothly and safely for everyone involved.

"It makes you feel good to see that other people want to help the ones that don't have (what they have)," said Emily Morales through a translator. She and her family are refugees from Venezuela.

It was her fourth time visiting The Village Exchange Center's weekly food pantry. She said she heard about it through friends also staying at a hotel used to house migrants.

"My husband doesn't work, I don't work. This is very helpful for us because getting food from here, I have had food to eat all week long," Morales said.

The Village Exchange Center's food pantry was forced to shutter not too long ago because of lack of funding and for the last few years, they've only been able to give food to community leaders who would give the food out at churches and other locations. In the last few weeks, however, the organization was finally able to reopen the pantry to families to come and pick out their own food.

"By allowing them to go through like a marketplace and choose food that they know, they want, and that they can eat, for them is a very dignified way of feeling like they're being respected and honored," said Amanda Blaurock, co-founder and CEO of The Village Exchange Center.

Blaurock said when they re-opened about three weeks ago, they were serving between 180-200 families. Word of the reopening traveled fast.

"We're up to about 500 families a week, which is anywhere between 1,000 to 2,000 people," said Blaurock.

But with so many families in desperate need for help, paired with hours of waiting outside in the hot sun, high tensions have risen.

Volunteers describe conflicts over pushing and shoving, confusion over how the pantry operates, and some people trying to take more food than what can be allocated.

Food pantry forced to hire security after increases in need cause 'chaos'

"We have seen an increase in aggression with the community that we're serving right now which has been a little more difficult. As you'll see today, we have two officers here from Aurora Police Department. One is Afghani and another one speaks Vietnamese. We also have a security guard that we're paying for that is actually from Colombia and speaks the dialect that most of these community members speak," said Blaurock.

As the pantry tries to juggle the increased need, they're advocating for a local government sponsored "Community Relief Fund" that could help out strained nonprofits.

They also have plans to acquire a new location, the old Paris Elementary School building, that will help connect migrants to more resources in their new home.

"We're part of the migrant Response Network and the city of Aurora. And that program would allow all the 50 nonprofits to come in and have a space so that they can do the programs that they do. There's nothing right now currently set up in Aurora. So if we were to obtain, and a be able to acquire, Paris Elementary School, we would use a portion of that 48,000-square feet in order to triage the situation that we feel is imminent, and really pertinent right now," said Blaurock.

To donate to The Village Exchange Center, click here.

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